November 30, 2007
A dozen or so students are listening intently to Rabbi Moshe Liberow talk about the Torah’s patriarch, Abraham, and his journey from Spain to what is now Israel.
“Why was Abraham yearning? How is that like your life? How do you express your own yearning for the land, for home?” Liberow asks. It’s a few weeks before Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights (which begins Tuesday at sundown). And there is much here in this class that reflects the spirit of the holiday. As part of the celebration, Jews light candles on the Hanukkah menorah for each night of the eightday holiday — a symbol of light over darkness. Liberow, who belongs to the Chabad-Lubavitch branch of the ultraorthodox Hasidic movement, sees spiritual education and good works as part of those flames — so much so that he came to Colorado Springs from a thriving Jewish community in Brooklyn to teach Judaism and do outreach work among the small local Jewish population. His students say he is definitely kindling a fire in them. “Jewish learning is lifelong; we never finish the job,” says retiree Don Thomas, one of more than a dozen students attending Liberow’s six-week class about Israel, “The Land and the Spirit.” Thomas, who has visited Israel three times, says the class has exceeded his expectations, going beyond politics to capture the spiritual soul of Israel and prodding him to think more about his own spirituality. Liberow started the Chabad-Lubavitch Center of Colorado Springs and Southern Colorado in 2001. In October he began offering classes through the Chabad-Lubavitch movement’s Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, which provides Jewish adult education in more than 250 cities worldwide. The classes include the kind of discourse one imagines the rabbis of old held, but with a modern twist: The courses are taught through interactive dialogue, texts and audio-visual presentations. Topics meld ancient teachings with today’s world with topics such as “Finding Your Self in the Stories of Genesis,” “Beyond Never Again: The Holocaust — A View from the Soul” and “Men, Women and Kabbalah: Wisdom and Advice from the Masters.” Students include first-time learners as well as those with years of study. Some belong to synagogues, others don’t. Non-Jews are welcome, but none have signed up locally. The students don’t just soak up lessons — they debate and discuss Jewish philosophy, history, traditions, Jewish mysticism and law. “I like how the lessons reflect back on our lives in every way,” says Nechama Glick, 26. “I’ve always wanted to go to Israel, and the class is bringing it alive for me.” The students might praise Liberow’s teachings, but he doesn’t like to talk about himself unless it has something to do with the Chabad mission. This much he’ll share: He grew up in Manchester, England. His father, grandfather, great-grandfather and even earlier generations were rabbis, he says. His brother is a rabbi, too. He never thought of being anything else. When he was 9, he would stay up all night to listen to the radio broadcasts of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh grand rabbi of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, which was founded in 1772. “Sometimes he would speak for seven, eight hours,” Liberow recalls. Liberow was thrilled by Schneerson’s message to never underestimate the power of one person to change the world “one mitzvah — one good deed — at a time.” As a youth, Liberow accompanied his father on social-service mitzvah missions, visiting hospitals and nursing homes and helping the poor. And, from childhood through adulthood, he attended shuls — religious seminaries where he studied the Torah, Talmud and ancient Jewish philosophers and texts. He came to the U.S. to study at Lubavitch headquarters in Brooklyn and was ordained there. He also became a scribe, one of a select few who can copy the Torah and other Jewish scriptures. It was in that Hasidic community where he met and married his wife, Zelda. When Liberow arrived in Colorado Springs, by way of a teaching job in Houston, he was determined to reach out to the community’s nonobservant Jews. This is Chabad work at its core — finding the nonobservant and lighting a flame, as well as doing good deeds, to prepare for the coming of the Jewish messiah. Outreach is a vital part of the Chabad-Lubavitch mission, especially because more and more Jews are being assimilated into the secular world. Liberow also thinks outreach can encourage Jews to keep practicing their faith; he knows that many stop their religious studies at age 13 after completing their bar or bat mitzvah ceremonies. “Adults need to remain children. It’s not age, it’s a state of mind. We have to always be eager to learn and grow,” Liberow says. He and other Chabad rabbis — sometimes called “roving rabbis” — reach out to all Jews regardless of their affiliation. This year, as in the past, they plan public menorah-lighting ceremonies and a sabbath dinner in Colorado Springs, as well as events in Pueblo, Telluride and elsewhere. As busy as he is with Chabad, Liberow has his work cut out for him at home. The Liberows have six children, including a daughter, Miriam Maryasha, who was born in October. The birth — as Jews believe — is another reflection of Hanukkah’s meaning. “A new child brings new blessings,” he says. “It is another gift to the world, a beacon of light.” ABOUT HANUKKAH Hanukkah is the commemoration of an event 21 centuries ago in what is now Israel. At the time, a Syrian-Greek leader, Antiochus IV, had massacred Jews, looted their Holy Temple and ordered that an altar to the Greek god Zeus be placed there. A small band of Jews, led by Judah Maccabee, revolted and took back the Jerusalem temple. They had only enough purified oil to light the eternal lamp for one day, but miraculously it lasted eight days until more was obtained. Central to the holiday is the Hanukkah menorah, a branched candlestick that holds nine candles, one for each of the eight nights and an additional candle that’s used to light the others. One candle is lit on the first night of Hanukkah, two on the second night, and so on, until all eight candles are lit on the eighth night. Hanukkah is a time to celebrate with family and friends, and to eat foods that have been fried in oil. It’s a time to give gifts of gelt — money — to young children, who, in turn, are to give to the needy. SOURCE: chabad.org